by Lynn Burshtein
Among many other benefits, owning a dog has long been recognized in the medical professional as a legitimate form of stress relief, a possible way to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, not to mention a means of improving cardiovascular health. Studies advanced by Harvard Medical School and other reputable clinics support these findings, which have, in turn, led to the introduction of canine-focused programs into the field of wellness travel.
One of the most popular of such programs is the Pound Puppy Hike at Red Mountain Resort in southwestern Utah. An ongoing partnership between Red Mountain and Ivins City Animal Shelter & Adoption Centre, the Pound Puppy Hike pairs resort guests with dogs residing at the Ivins shelter for a stroll and some fresh air. This specialized hike is a highlight of many guests’ stay at the resort, not so much for any element of physical challenge (truth be told, it’s more like a brisk walk than a hike) as much as its spiritual benefits.
I had an opportunity to participate in the Pound Puppy Hike, along with eight other guests from Red Mountain, last December. Arriving at the shelter, we filed into the small entrance area for a brief orientation session and to meet the pup. Having successfully placed a number of shelter dogs in recent weeks, the shelter’s sole habitant, a Black Lab-mix named Harley, happily made the rounds of introductions. Meanwhile, the shelter’s director provided us with the backstory of the organization and its no-kill philosophy for the dogs and cats who are brought there. Before embarking on the hike, we were also provided with safety instructions and best practices for holding Harley’s industrial-strength leash.
The Ivins shelter was the starting point of the three-mile hike through St. George Valley and Padre Canyon. Walking through the trails at the base of the mountain, taking in the glorious desert scenery, each guest took a turn walking Harley, while he acted as the de facto hiking guide. While we all cooed over the cute canine, our endorphin levels climbing as high as the red rock bluffs, Harley was equally ecstatic to be surrounded by so many loving humans, making the journey a “pawsitive” experience all-around.
As a wellness resort, Red Mountain has a lot to offer, with hikes of all levels, top-notch spa services, nutritious cuisine, fitness classes and more. Nevertheless, the Puppy Pound Hike is one of its most notable programs. Indeed, after returning from the hike, I learn that there is a wait-list for the next scheduled Pound Puppy Hike. This is not surprising, since the hike provides guests with an opportunity to unwind, enjoy a playful way to de-stress, and of course, feel a sense of pride knowing they are giving dogs from the shelter some exercise and TLC. As Tracey Welsh, GM of Red Mountain (and a dog enthusiast herself) claims: “The benefits of volunteering with animals are tenfold.”
While a few other travel-related programs have recognized the mental health benefits of dogs – LAX recently introduced Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) – a program that provides airport passengers with the opportunity to interact with dogs at departure gates, Red Mountain seems to have taken the lead in this particular path to wellness.